Sadie, a blue-nose bull dog, isn’t shy to say “hello” to anyone after spending a day at Crate Escape, Belmont’s “doggy day care” center at the corner of Brighton and Hittinger streets.
Her owner, Chris of Acton, said he has been taking his pet to the facility located hard by the commuter rail tracks for the past three years which is convenient as he works in neighboring Arlington.
“It’s awesome. She loves it here,” said Chris who has owned Sadie for the past five years.
“She runs around all day and comes home tired. He usually naps on the trip home,” he said, calling himself a “very satisfied” Crate Escape customer.
But Chris and Sadie along with approximately 300 customers and nearly 150 dogs on an average day will need to look for a new canine provider if next month Belmont’s Town Meeting passes a pair of articles forcing the six-year-old facility to shut down for exceeding the maximum amount of dogs a kennel can house under the new regulations.
“This will bankrupt me if this passes,” said Crate Escape’s owner Bradley Hastings, who opened his current Belmont facility last year after moving from his original location across Brighton Street on Flanders Road (which opened in 2008) that will be used for the new Belmont Light substation.
Chris was more succinct.
“It would [stink],” he said.
Hastings attended an informational meeting by the Board of Health Thursday, April 10 at Town Hall on the changes to the town’s health codes in Article 8 to amend the general bylaws effecting animals.
Hastings, who has 55 employees and a $1.2 million payroll at stake, said first heard about the meeting and the warrant articles that morning when clients spoke to him advising him to attend. What he heard was sobering for the Belmont resident.
“People don’t like services taken from them and this is what will happen. But it will also do such damage to a business that is successful and wants to do what’s right for everyone,” said Hastings to the Belmontonian.
Located in a 15,000 square foot single-floor commercial building, Crate Escape is a big open play space for your pooch. On a visit, some dogs were running around, others playing with plastic toys, a few napping and several extremely curious of a 35mm camera.
Dogs are segregated by temperament and social “skills” in one of the seven pens with a handler on hand so everyone “plays safe,” said Nikkilee Condon, Crate Escape’s general manager, who said there is also grooming and boarding at the facilities.
“There’s a lot of running around and mental stimulation for the dogs. They have to figure their way through a new hierarchy each day,” said Condon, who said their are 30 dogs in each enclosed area.
Calling the business’ clients “very loyal,” Condon said more most dogs, a half-hour walk “is not enough” activity and leaving them alone is troublesome for both pet and owner.
“We have the right balance here,” said Condon.
Yet for Hastings, the services he provides the community is just two votes away from being banned in Belmont.
On Thursday, the Board of Health’s vice-chair Dr. David Alper told the sparsely-attended meeting the language change to the existing bylaw was effectively mandated by the state’s Board of Health which issued language in 2012 in an effort to bring uniformity to the hodgepodge of hundreds of regulations existing in each of the Commonwealth’s approximately 350 municipalities.
Changing regulations, static numbers
Under the “tweaking” of the regulations, the town’s Health Department will only have the power to enforce the safety and welfare of the animals by inspection and licensing facilities; it is unable to determine where a facility can be located which is left up to the zoning bylaws, said Stefan Russakow, director of the town’s Health Department.
Yet in the proposed new bylaw, the town’s terminology for what is a “kennel” has been expanded and specified to the determent of doggy day care facilities.
In addition to requirements on licensing pets and dealing with “dangerous” dogs, Article 8 states that “[n]0 Kennel may keep more than 25 dogs on the premises at any time.”
And under the language in Article 9, a kennel in Belmont will include “[a]n establishment used for boarding, holding, day care, overnight stays or training of animals.”
This regulatory double play would force Hastings’ facility to close down as he could not meet the drastically-altered licensing requirements.
“There is just no way we could do business here,” said Hastings.
Yet the new amendments were not being proposed to drive kennels out of Belmont, according to town officials, but rather an oversight when transforming existing bylaws and zoning regulations.
According to Jeffrey Wheeler, the town’s Planning Coordinator, the history of the current animal regulations goes back to 2003 when residents along Pleasant Street complained of noise coming from an animal clinic’s outdoor kennel and petitioned the town to regulate those facilities by limiting the number of dogs to 25 in any kennel.
Under the bylaw that has been in existence for the past decade, a “kennel” did not included a section for canine care facilities such as Hastings’ but will under the amendments.
“And the Board of Health did not change the number of animals in their regulations when the zoning changes were made,” said Wheeler.
If in the first week of May Town Meeting votes to amend the bylaw (Article 8) and the zoning code (Article 9 ), Create Escape will be forced to close.
Yet the articles are far from being death sentences to Hastings’ business, according to both the Board of Health and Wheeler. Crate Escape will need a little help to revise the articles with the stroke of the copy editor’s blue pencil.
One of two measures would need to take place to save Sadie’s daytime home: the submission of a so-called “amendment to the amendment” (the articles are, in fact, amendments; they do not create new bylaws or codes) doing one of two things: either excluding the terms “day care”; or change the number of dogs a specific facility can handle.
Those who hope to change the articles are required to submit an amendment to the amendment.
Town Clerk Ellen Cushman told the Belmontonian that one Town Meeting member can file the proposed amendment in writing with the Town Clerk by the close of the business three days prior to the session of Town Meeting the article is expected to be voted.
“Related to animals, [that is] expected to be heard and voted on May 5; amendments are due by 4 p.m. April 30. No additional signatures are required,” she said.
“It behoves you to go to the zoning, planning to discuss this,” said Alper to Hastings.
But for Hastings, the last-minute way and how he was informed of the two Town Meeting articles he said could do severe damage to a decade-old service with 4,000 current customers in three locations was deplorable.
“There has been this anti-business feel since I’ve been here. No one could think of calling me? I’m disappointed,” said Hastings.